The temple was filled with people in red robes, seated on the white marble floor inlaid with patterns of yellow marble brought from the northern mountain passes hundreds of years ago. The land of the winds, of the keen-eared. The stone had been used for the pillars and walls, too. As Kerranas fingertips passed over the perfectly polished surface, relishing the cool sensation, she wondered how it had been transported. It certainly wasn’t by magic. Levitating something as heavy as stone over such long distances was far too exhausting. Maybe cloud buffalos? Kerrana snapped out of her reverie as someone shoved their knee in her back when walking by. She looked up and saw two girls with heavily embroidered robes pushing through the rows of seated youngsters.
“Have you heard about that story in the southern sand tribe?” her cousin’s voice said to her right. Not to her, of course, but to some or another of her friends, “It’s outright ghastly, I tell you. What came out of that woman was not a child – it was a fish, a monster, a cursed existence. It died that same day without the water, of course. But how ghastly!”
“The poor woman! It must have been a shock to have that thing come out of her!” another voice whispered.
“Poor woman? If you ask me, anyone to give birth to such a monstrosity must be in league with the cursed ones. Exile is too soft a punishment for them. If you ask me”-the cousin made a slicing motion in front of her throat-“this is what they should do. Actually, I heard that that is what they do in the capital. Only here, in this backwater would they allow trash like that to live.”
Kerrana was shocked by her cousin’s opinions. Not that they were that extraordinary. But to her, even as she was about to enter the Sun Gods order, it was impossible to understand such hatred, even towards someone who was an enemy of the realm. Although she had never actually seen a curse born one – histories of dreadful births, of misshapen beings, whispered accounts were the most any of her acquaintances had ever heard – it seemed to her impossible that any new born being could be found guilty. Could be made guilty of their existence alone. She didn’t feel like listening to any more of that nonsense and concentrated on something different. Like, there should be a good many tribesman and –women here. All people of the realm were required to go through the ceremony, so many must have come in for the occasion. Curiosity was one of the vices she had yet to overcome. How she wished she could see the girl’s hairstyles. The tribes women were said to have the most intricate braiding techniques. So she looked around from under her eye lashes. Even with the ornaments to tip her off, it was hard - there was red everywhere. Like the dunes in the setting sun. Her vision went blurry and she had to shake her head to clear it. Something was wrong with her blood circulation today. What a great time for her sleep-depravity to take its toll on her. Even during the retelling of the tale of the first Quazir, Phulkerram, the direct descendant of the Sun God, she could barely keep her attention. While the Head Priest told the story of how Phulkerram punished the wicked water tribe for withholding the water from the realm and cursed them to be scattered, born far from their home, she focused on the pattern on the wall behind him to fight the strange floaty feeling in her body. Her arms and legs started itching terribly and it took all her willpower to refrain from scratching. Her nose went stale from a terrible stench – like something salty, rotting.
When they finally got up for the vow to the realm, she had to use all her strength to keep from swaying. And clenched the amulet her sister had given her. She felt so horrible she didn’t even manage to say the words out properly. But she was moving her lips along, so appearances were kept adequately. Although her cousin gave her a queer look. But maybe that was due to that smell. Kerrana had to keep the façade. The image of her enraged father kept her sober enough to hold on. Any man hoping to be of political consequence in Lofang had to be fierce by nature and her father was no exception.
By the time the sun had climbed to its zenith, they were dismissed for the traditional time of quiet meditation – before they would proclaim their life choices to the people in the evening. As the bustle of many dozen of giddy coming-of-agers welled up, something in her attention slipped, and suddenly everything went dark.